July 29, 1993
The trip up to Brian's lab was short enough that the small apprehension I was feeling didn't have a chance to build up. The It looked miniscule as it sat next to the Sunbeam in the lab. Brian was in the control room, and I wound my way through the huge ship to find him.
"I see you made it," he said without looking up.
"Yep. Remember, I've been here before."
"What are you looking at?"
"Just thinking. I'm going over some last minute details."
"Ok, well, let's get this show on the road."
I sat down in the pilot chair and began to look over the controls. There wasn't much there --most of the ship was, after all, automated. But I was taking no chances, and was mentally putting everything I saw with what I'd read about the Sunbeam in the docs that Penny sent me.
Brian watched me with more than curiosity, and his looking over my shoulder was a bit distracting. "Don't you have some preflight thing to do?" I asked.
"I'm doing it."
"I'm watching the one piece of equipment I have to trust without being able to control it."
"What would that be?"
I gave that some thought. Brian had spent a lot of time and energy in putting this ship together, and he had as much reason to be concerned about me as I had to be concerned about a new aircraft. To me, this was just another ship to fly when it all came down to it. But for Brian, it was a hell of a lot more. There was no sense in telling him to relax.
Instead, I fitted the headset and selected the clear lensed glasses from the collection. When all was in place, I sat back and closed my eyes. In my thoughts, I reread the various startup procedures, the maneuvering capabilities and controls, and did the one thing Brian didn't expect.
I turned to Brian and winked. "Amplifiers come in handy sometimes." What startled him was the link that I had to Penny. In essence, I was wired into the ships computer which was, for the most part, Penny.
I strapped in and Brian followed suit. He shut down the fields of the lab so the Sunbeam could lift, and as he was opening the roof doors, the ship was beginning a pulsing noise as the drives began to spool up.
*You won't need that much energy*
I ignored the comment and settled myself into the seat, wiggling my butt and shoulders into the padding.
*You don't need to do that either, there's inertial damping like the It has here too.*
I cast a look at him sideways. Maybe I didn't need to make sure I was locked into the seat tightly, and maybe I didn't need to have a head of steam ready to unleash in case of the unexpected. But I'm a creature of habit, and I had no habits with the Sunbeam to draw on, so I drew on my experiences.
The ship came off the floor of the lab and I held it about fifty feet up. Slowly, I pivoted the Sunbeam 360 degrees to check all directions for any obstructions. I didn't expect any, but one never knows. I saw none, so I added a bit more power and rose up out of the lab.
+Pattern is clear. Your vector is three-oh-two by niner-six-six. Power is flight idle with sixty percent reserve at current settings+ Penny was giving me the info over the headset just as we'd practiced in the It.
The ship rotated eighty degrees as it took on forward movement. I fed in a little more power and pulled the nose up. Earth stood like a target in front of us.
"Just a hop..."
I set the thrust at full power and jumped. The earth came at us like a freight train.
"Auto-intercept the pipe. Your bird."
*What the hell are you DOING!*
I watched the planet come at us like a fall in a nightmare, and watched the readings of the ship by changing my eye focus from near to far. The view I had was entirely different from Brian's. All he saw was his work crashing on the surface while my vision was laced with a wire frame image of our path. The ship decellerated as fast as it accellerated, and we were in light cloud over San Francisco Bay with our nose pointed at SFO.
+Traffic is a Continental Heavy, 12 o'clock. Speed is matched. You have a United Light aft at four-thirty. We're in the pipe, five by five.+
I rolled the Sunbeam inverted. "We have rotary traffic at two o'clock low, Penny."
+Speed, heading and altitude show no threat.+
"I don't care. I want to know about it."
+Understood. Outer marker+
"Roger that. Take us through the TCA at 800 AGL. On clear traffic ascend and hold flight level 210."
I became a tourist and watched the airport slide by off the port side. It was then I looked over at Brian. He had a light sweat on his forehead, but I could see that he wasn't tense.
"How 'bout them apples?"
"If you ever do that again without warning me, you'll spend the rest of your life as a toad."
"Hey, I read the documentation. There wasn't a moment I didn't know what was happening."
"I didn't know what was happening."
"No, you didn't. And you probably won't always know what's happening."
I smiled at him. "Kinda spooky blowing towards a planet when you have no control and don't know what's happening. Isn't it?"
"The asteroid? You weren't in any danger. I knew what I was doing."
"So did I."
Brian mused that over. "Ok. You made your point. Don't make it again."
"Your bird, Brian. Take us back."
"You're the pilot, wise ass."